Blackheads are not caused by poor hygiene or inadequate washing. They are waxy plugs (or “comedones”) made of our skin’s natural oils and dead skin cells.
Our body produces sebum to keep the skin supple and hydrated. However, comedones block the pores. A closed comedone is white (called a whitehead). Once it’s pushed to the skin surface, it comes into contact with the air, which oxidizes it and turns it black (called a blackhead).
Never pick or push out a blackhead!
Pricking or forcibly removing a blackhead is also a short-term solution that can lead to bigger skin problems. Touching, scraping, or applying deep pressure on your skin may irritate the skin or introduce bacteria that could lead to breakouts. Your nails can also damage your skin surface. Leave this task to dermatologists or aestheticians who will steam your face to open your pores then use sterilized tools to remove any comedones. At home, you can try nose strips or clay masks that gently lift off the blackhead, but they are not as effective as a professional facial.
I personally recommend addressing blackheads with skincare products. While these may take longer to work, they are gentler and more effective.
Look for key skincare ingredients
Use a cleanser that can loosen, soften and break down the dead skin cells in your skin surface and pores. If your pores are clear, your body can release oil without forming blackheads or whiteheads.
Ingredients that help disintegrate dead skin cells are keratolytics — from the word “keratinocytes” (skin cells) and the suffix “lytic” (decompose). The three most commonly used non-prescription keratolytics are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid.
Skincare products can use one or a combination of these ingredients with varying levels of concentration. Benzoyl peroxide is the most powerful, but if you have dry or sensitive skin, I’d recommend salicylic or lactic acid. The results may take longer, but there is less peeling and possible irritation. As a pharmacist I have often adjusted or recommended the concentrations according to my clients’ skin type, skin sensitivity, and particular skin problem.
Your dermatologist can also provide you with prescription retinoids, which are very effective in treating blackheads, or give a chemical peel with higher levels of keratolytics than you’d normally find in skincare products.
The anti-blackhead skincare regimen
A good cleanser can provide the daily, gentle exfoliation you need. (Read our tips on the best way to wash your face!) However, if blackheads remain a problem for you, I’d recommend adding a toner to help remove any residue. Look for a toner that has no alcohol and has mild anti-bacterial properties to prevent any acne flare-ups. I also think it’s better to use an oil-free moisturizer that won’t clog pores. Look for ingredients like glycerin, amino acids, and sodium PCA.
Always get non-comedogenic makeup, sunscreen, and creams that won’t clog your pores. Avoid anything that contains mineral oil and petrolatum.
The positive side of the problem
While blackheads, whiteheads and other oil control and pore issues can seem very annoying and frustrating, these skin problems usually pass. Oils well that ends well!
Mei Hui - Managing Director/Pharmacist